I have fond memories of playing in the ancient forest that sat on the opposite side of the main road, from my house in Forest Hill, South East London. It was the same forest my dad played in as a child with his friends and brother. It was veiled in the mysticism of queens and war planes and if you listened carefully you could hear the trees breathing. I can remember the sun glistening through the gaps, revealing the blue sky beyond. My self-sufficiency would have me and my friends take a jam sandwich and watch the gardeners attend their allotments. And with my parents, a game of hide and seek was enjoyed as a family which was a happier time for my Dad.
I loved nature as a child even though the city of London ran through my mum’s veins. She loved London more than anything and given the choice of nature or a trip to the west end it would always be the latter.
Born in the early 1970’s I was a very much a screen child. Hopping between my television, hand-held computer games and my Commodore 64. I was obsessed with gaming, waiting for my tapes to load, Hungry Horace, Daly Thompsons Decathlon and Damsel in Distress were some of my favourites. Gaming was isolating then, it was stand alone and I spent most of the time in solitude, not communicating with anyone. Gaming now is very different, I often hear my son cackling inappropriately into his Xbox 360 mic.
We all need balance in our life, a life that has equal parts. Climbing trees, running through forests and splashing across streams nurtures the psyche. Trees feed tranquillity into our very being, they ground our existence on this earth. They have the ability to transport us to other worlds, with queens and war hero’s. A child’s imagination can run as free as their body through a forest that sparkles with sunlight.
Most of our possessions in the home come from the earth, in some format or another. Nature is the perfect way to help children understand the process of consumption and the impact that process may or may not have on the environment. The wooden chair I sit upon once stood rooted to the ground with branches and leaves.
Spending time watching a bumble bee collect pollen and explaining why we need bumble bees allows children to understand the connectedness of every living being. Finding a dead animal and talking about the ecosystem that’s right before your eyes encourages how the reliance of every living thing impacts upon each other. If one is out of balance, nature allows us to explore the impact on the rest of the chain.
Climate change sees local streams flooding and when we visit the same wild place regularly we can see the impact of climate change on an environment that is changing. We can connect with others and understand how their lives have been affected by devastating floods and typhoons, for example, those people in the Philippines. It encourages children to empathise with the rest of the earth and it encourages a debate that children need to have with themselves about the causes of a changing climate across the globe. It’s not about frightening children’s existence, it’s about creating a dialogue that needs to happen for the sake of humanity.
With earth, comes fire and spring is the best time to camp up around the fire pit. Some ancient cultures use the smoke from fire to communicate with ancestors, those who once roamed the earth. Our ancestors are important to our sense of who we are and a fire is a great opportunity to discuss with children those who came before us. My own children love roasting marshmallows, independently. My daughter has been proficient in fire pit safety since aged five, negotiating danger is important to children. It’s important because if they’re ever in danger they need to be able to know how to get out. If they’re never in danger they’ll never know how to get out of it.
Being outside and listening to silence embraces the presence of being human, the silence has the ability to touch the psyche in a way that the hustle and bustle of the city cannot. I live on the edge of the M25 and I find it difficult to listen to nature go about it’s daily business. As the lorries roar past, I feel their power in my chest. I’ve lived in silence, of an evening we would sit outside, around the fire and listen to owls hooting and bats swooping. I miss the silence tremendously.
Balance in life is key and it can exist but it can only exist if we allow it to. Sacrifices in life are key and we all make them, only some are different to others. What sacrifices will you make today? And who will benefit from them?